A few weeks ago, the good people of Good Citizen Nigeria invited me on their platform to speak about the laws regulating Advance Fee Fraud (Yahoo Yahoo) and the negative impact it has had on Nigeria’s international image.
The topic got me thinking about Advance Fee Fraud generally. Like me, many residents of Lagos will have at some point crossed paths with a big boy (sometimes girl) who was rumoured to have either started off as or is still deeply involved in Advance Fee Fraud.
This article aims to discuss some of the laws regulating fraud in Nigeria and the effectiveness of the legal enforcement framework.
The term 419 actually comes from s.419 of Chapter 38 of the Criminal Code Act, which deals with obtaining property by false pretences and cheating. The section reads: –
“Any person who by any false pretence, and with intent to defraud, obtains from any other person anything capable of being stolen, or induces any other person to deliver to any person anything capable of being stolen, is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years.
If the thing is of the value of one thousand naira or upwards, he is liable to imprisonment for seven years.”
As we all know, over the years, the term 419 has now become a universally recognized term. Unfortunately, the entire world acknowledges that it originated from Nigeria and that it refers to fraud.
Other Laws Dealing With Fraud
Some other laws dealing with fraud include the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006 as well as the Cyber Crimes Act 2016.
The Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006 again makes it an offence for any person to obtain or induce to obtain by false pretence, with the intent to defraud another, whether in Nigeria or in any other country, property or a benefit of any kind, onto him or any other person. This law further goes on to prescribe sentencing guidelines of 7-20 years imprisonment for the successful conviction under this act.
As well as making the possession of fraudulent documents illegal, the act indicts possible accomplices needed for the commission of the offence, for example
- Owners or managers of premises who allow their premises to be used for fraud, punishable with 5-15 years imprisonment;
- Any person who invites a foreigner into Nigeria with the intention to defraud said foreigner, punishable with 7-20 years imprisonment;
- Individuals or corporate bodies who attempt to conduct financial transactions with the proceeds of unlawful activity are liable to a ₦1 million fine for the corporate body and 5-10 years imprisonment for the directors of such corporate body.
The Cyber Crimes Act 2016 deals more with cyber crimes holistically (i.e. critical national information, child pornography, identity theft etc.). However, the act touches on instances where fraudsters send electronic messages or hack into secure databases to misappropriate sensitive data.
The act was enacted to provide a unified legal, regulatory and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, investigation and prosecution of cyber crimes in Nigeria.
Before this act, there had been no specific statutory or regulatory regime in the country to deal with the alarming rate at which fraudulent activities were being conducted in Nigerian cyberspace.
By virtue of this act, Nigerian courts gained jurisdiction to attend to matters concerning offences consummated outside of Nigeria, as long as the crime has a Nigerian element and is illegal in the jurisdiction where it was committed. The act also promotes International Mutual Assistance, whereby the Attorney General of the Federation of Nigeria may request for, receive assistance from, or conduct a joint investigation with any foreign agency or authority with the sole aim detecting, preventing or prosecuting offenders under the act.
The Effectiveness of Legal and Enforcement framework
Some people argue that the main reason why an increasing number of Nigerians resident in Nigeria are engaging in advance fee fraud/cybercrime is that they believe, due to a general lack of opportunities, it is a fast and easy route to raise the necessary capital to venture into the mainstream business world, thus regularizing their business affairs.
The reality of 419 in Nigeria is that there seem to be no legal ramifications. Whilst researching, I searched court records for either Supreme Court or even Court of Appeal judgments discussing advance fee fraud/cybercrime and there seem to be very few cases. This just made me wonder how many convictions there have actually been for advance fee fraud/cybercrime in the history of Nigeria, especially in light of the international perception of the country.
Generally, convictions for advance fee fraud/cybercrime have been in jurisdictions other than Nigeria. In Nigeria, what happens is that the suspects do the needful, that is, they “settle” the necessary officials. Thus, as long as one makes enough money to go around, the future is bright. I have even seen instances where these “businessmen” involve the police in their disagreements, on the understanding that the police will be entitled to 10% of the recovered proceeds of the outstanding debt.
I believe many Nigerians have now accepted advance fee fraud/cybercrime as a part of life and have now become de-sensitized to it.
Someone recently asked me if I would report a suspected fraudster to the police and in all honesty, I didn’t know what to say. On the flip side of things, another asked me if advance fee fraud/cybercrime was more damaging to Nigerian society than the corporate fraud being conducted by large organisations in Nigeria, and, again, I honestly didn’t know what to say. I guess there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.